Predator 2 at 30: An Underrated, Violent Sequel

For decades, then-studio 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios) has tried every way they can to keep the Predator franchise alive. This includes everything from two crossover movies (2004’s AVP: Alien vs. Predator, 2007’s AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) to revivals/direct sequels (2010’s Predators, 2018’s The Predator), all of which were pale in comparison to the more superior 1987 original.

Then, there’s Predator 2. Released on November 21, 1990 with little fanfare, the bigger-budgeted sequel was a huge flop in the US, even though it managed to salvage some moderate box-office returns in the international market. Still, the US$57 million worldwide grosses weren’t good enough to convince the studio to greenlit for another Predator film. Not at least until 14 years later in 2004.

The lukewarm responses were understandable at the time of its release. First, releasing an uncompromisingly violent sequel like Predator 2 during the Thanksgiving season wasn’t exactly a brilliant strategy. And more so, when the sequel has to compete against the more mainstream-friendly fares of Home Alone and Three Men and a Little Lady, both of which were dominated the Top 2 chart during the November 23-25, 1990 weekend box office. Predator 2 was practically dead on arrival when it first opened on that ill-fated weekend at No. 4 and never recovered from there.

Danny Glover led the role of Lt. Mike Harrigan in "Predator 2" (1990)

It didn’t help either when Predator 2 was missing the key persons that made the 1987 original such a memorable success. Those persons in question were Arnold Schwarzenegger and director John McTiernan, with the former declined to return since he reportedly hated the script as well as unhappy over a salary dispute. Other than Kevin Peter Hall reprising his title role, none of the original cast returned for the sequel while the new lead actor Danny Glover didn’t have the same star power as Schwarzenegger, despite appearing in the popular Lethal Weapon movies.

I remembered watching this back in the 90s and I have to admit the notable absence of Schwarzenegger was sorely missed in this sequel. It only took me a couple of revisits before I began to appreciate the sequel even more than the first time around.

Looking back at Predator 2 today, which can be streamed on Netflix, the sequel actually made the right choice transporting the first movie’s jungle setting to a larger cityscape and wisely turning it into an urban battleground for the Predator creature. Taking place in Los Angeles 1997, we learn that the city is overrun by Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels. The seemingly endless heatwave doesn’t help either while the police department led by Lt. Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) and his team (Bill Paxton’s Detective Jerry Lambert, Ruben Blades’ Detective Danny Archuleta and Maria Conchita Alonso’s Detective Leona Cantrell) find themselves dealing with something mysterious on top of the violent gang war.

A scene from "Predator 2" (1990)

Replacing John McTiernan is Stephen Hopkins, whose previous credits including the little-seen 1987 Australian slasher film Dangerous Game and 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. His third directorial effort happened to be his first major studio picture and he actually delivers the sequel with enough verve.

Combining a gritty crime thriller with the sci-fi horror/action hybrid, the 108-minute running time is pacey enough. The bigger budget helps too, with Hopkins’ prior experience in the horror-film territory is put into good use when comes to displaying graphic violence and gore. He has an excellent eye for staging some of the thrilling action sequences, notably the opening gunfight scene between the police and the gang and the extended cliffhanger finale between Harrigan against the Predator. Alan Silvestri, who gave us the unforgettable score in the first movie, returns to compose for the sequel as well.

Despite being a Schwarzenegger-less sequel, the ensemble cast did a good job playing their respective roles. Danny Glover made quite a lasting impression playing a no-nonsense tough cop. He also proved he can lead a movie after all. The rest of the actors are equally worthwhile, notably Bill Paxton’s comic-relief supporting turn and Gary Busey’s engaging tole of Special Agent Peter Keyes, who led a special task force to catch the Predator.

Predator 2 is certainly worth another look and remains the best true, though underrated sequel in the franchise.

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